School chief: Brunswick the 'opt-out capital of Maine'

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BRUNSWICK — More than a third of Brunswick High School 11th-graders opted out of standardized state tests this year, Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said Wednesday.

If opt-outs remain that high in the future, he warned, Brunswick may lose federal funding.

The newest Maine Educational Assessment was developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. This the test’s first year after a pilot run last year.

The MEA has drawn criticism, and was dropped by the state Legislature in May. The state is now soliciting proposals for new tests for next year.

Perzanoski told the School Board the high opt-out numbers reflect the backlash. He said the numbers were driven “more from parents who are more knowledgeable of the assessments and what they represent.”

He noted that the opt-out rates for this year’s test were “almost identical” to the pilot year.

“We are kind of the opt-out capital of Maine,” he added.

In a March 11 letter, Perzanoski informed parents that there is currently nothing in state law that “prohibits parents from choosing not to have their child participate.”

Brunswick’s opt-outs were not just elevated at the high school, but also for standardized tests in the middle and elementary schools.

Although there will be no consequences this year, because it was the first year the assessment was officially implemented, high-opt outs in the future could bring consequences.

If Brunswick does not meet the federal requirement of 95 percent assessment participation, the school district will be labeled as “failing” and federal funds could be withheld.

But by some calculations, the district is already losing money on the tests.

Perzanoski presented what he called “unscientific estimates,” based on how much time schools reported training for and administering the assessments.

Using the estimated times and median teacher salary, the School Department calculated it had spent more than $500,000 for hours and assessment materials this year alone.

When asked if he is worried about Brunswick’s opt-out rates remaining high, Perzanoski said he was not.

“We’ll have to see what the state decides is the assessment exam next year,”  he said. “… What happens because of that, that’s anybody’s guess.”

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.